This afternoon at the Game Developers Conference, Nintendo’s Aya Kyogoku and Katsuya Eguchi conducted an enlightening panel, titled “How to Turn a New Leaf at the Animal Crossing,” to discuss the development of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a game that has been among Nintendo’s biggest hits on the Nintendo 3DS, and grown into something of a social phenomenon.
Kyogoku, who served as one of the two directors on the game, said that she has been working on Animal Crossing since Animal Crossing: City Folk on Wii. When she started out, Kyogoku was the first female designer within Nintendo’s Entertainment Analysis and Development group, which is responsible for the development of Mario, Zelda and Animal Crossing games among others.
Jump ahead by a few years, and by the time Animal Crossing: New Leaf was in development, nearly half of the team consisted of women, Kyogoku shared.
Like all of Nintendo’s most talented staff, Kyogoku has served other roles within Nintendo EAD, of course. In addition to serving as System Director on Animal Crossing: City Folk, she also worked on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess as a script writer.
Recalling her days working on City Folk, one of the goals of that game was to launch the U.S. and European versions at the same time as the Japanese version, Kyogoku said. In order to make a simultaneous release possible, a lot of time was spent on making the events within the game feel familiar for each region. Nintendo spent a great deal of time on culturalization.
Working on a franchise isn’t easy. Kyogoku recalled that that Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS sold ten times the amount that the Gamecube Animal Crossing game had. As a result, she said, the team was afraid of making too many changes, since the DS version was such a hit. Due to this, fans began to feel like the world within the game was isolated.
With that in mind, the goal with Animal Crossing: New Leaf on Nintendo 3DS was to rethink the conventions of the series. If someone were to ask what you can do in an Animal Crossing game, it’s difficult to explain, Kyogoku said. However, there is one phrase that she feels sums it up, which is “Animal Crossing is a communication tool”. It’s easier to visit people’s Animal Crossing homes than their real homes. And because there’s no money involved, there’s nothing to stop you from getting someone the perfect gift.
If there’s a full moon in the game, you might see it in the real world, too. If it’s New Year’s in the world of Animal Crossing, it’s New Year’s in the real world as well. These are the things that open up communication between people and enable Animal Crossing to harmonize real-world relationships, Kyogoku shared.
In fact, playing Animal Crossing during development lowered the stress levels of the development team, Kyogoku revealed. The team held turnip competitions, and the staff would leave presents for everyone that had the lowest prices. Stress levels within your development team? Share Animal Crossing with them, Kyogoku suggested, much to the audience’s amusement.
Communication features are even stronger in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In previous games, you would need to text or call someone to see if they were playing Animal Crossing. Now, you can see who’s playing your Best Friends list, and can chat with them without leaving town. You can feel the presence of another player at the same time. Other communication features include Happy Home data through StreetPass, and the Tropical Island where you can play with others using random matching. These allow players without people on their Friends List to experience the game’s community.
As a result, players have been sharing screenshots of their towns over blogs and Twitter, thereby reaching out to even more people. Nintendo even facilitated the sharing of items and clothing by allowing you to create and scan QR Codes using the Nintendo 3DS camera. Meanwhile, events such as the Art Academy contest on Miiverse is allowing more and more people to learn about Animal Crossing: New Leaf even if they aren’t playing it. It’s a question of improving the hook that gets people interested in a game and keeps them coming back, while adding new fans at the same time, Kyogoku said. It’s about sharing the concept, rather than sharing specs.
To this end, team members from all disciplines created furniture, characters and other items in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Kyogoku revealed. This added diversity to the game.
The end result of it all? Animal Crossing: New Leaf has sold 7.38 million worldwide as of January 2014, and continues to sell with each passing month, said series producer Katsuya Eguchi, taking over from Kyogoku. The franchise as a whole, Eguchi believes, has the potential not just to evolve itself, but also the scope of the platform it was designed for.
Animal Crossing: Wild World showed how the franchise fit a portable device, Eguchi said. And if you’ve the played Nintendo 3DS game… well, you’ve likely seen what Animal Crossing: New Leaf has accomplished for yourself.